It's not that much of a kids' book, in the end. I mean, to be sure, it's entirely child-appropriate, and it's true that it was originally written with...moreIt's not that much of a kids' book, in the end. I mean, to be sure, it's entirely child-appropriate, and it's true that it was originally written with a child (Grahame's son Alistaire) in mind, but it has so many themes and moments—nostalgia, change, newfound freedom, wonderment, wanderlust, faddishness and its hazards, and encounters with the ineffable, just to name a few—that are clearly addressed by an adult to other adults.
There are basically two parallel coming-of-age tales in this book: a sweet, reflective story in which Mole leaves his hole in the ground, falls in love with a river, becomes best friends with Rat and Badger, and learns how to live in a riverbank and mess about in boats; and a sillier (yet equally poignant) story about the famed Mr. Toad of the automotive crashes and the daring if humiliating escapes, who has to learn to reconcile his irrepressible spirit with a bit—okay, a lot—of humility and maturity.
And all of this is depicted in Grahame's elegant, gentle, witty, leisurely style. It's way up there with Watership Down and Haroun and the Sea of Stories among the very best books truly written for all ages. Also, Grahame has a gift for laying his characters' picnic blankets with delicious food. I now know about the British dish called bubble-and-squeak (leftover cooked vegetables reheated with mashed potatoes), which I must now make and eat.(less)
My wife and I used some lines from one of these letters at our wedding, so I have quite a soft spot for this book. I don't completely agree with Rilke...moreMy wife and I used some lines from one of these letters at our wedding, so I have quite a soft spot for this book. I don't completely agree with Rilke's philosophy of the creative life—my writing depends a great deal on engagement with the world, whereas he tends to advocate insularity and psychological withdrawal from society—but I'm fully in accord with the core of his advice: that some solitude and constant interior questioning are necessary to produce truly satisfying personal art. If it's not as universal to me as it apparently is to some people, it still is fascinating as a brief, beautifully written look at Rilke's own creative mind and worldview.(less)
Very close to four stars. There's definitely nothing wrong with Lehane as a prose writer: he creates a very strong, eerie atmosphere and some solid ch...moreVery close to four stars. There's definitely nothing wrong with Lehane as a prose writer: he creates a very strong, eerie atmosphere and some solid characters worth following through the book. The setting of the novel, in a mental hospital on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, is incredibly suspenseful, and the story is fun, nerve-wracking, and even poignant at times. The problem is that the ending, while it is logically convincing and has some emotional power, is also kind of mundane and trite. Lehane is going for a mind-blowing twist, and he almost pulls it off, but it seems just a little cliched after all the build-up. Still a worthwhile read.(less)
This is a cute, silly science fiction novel that covers a lot of the same ground as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: it contains snarky robots,...moreThis is a cute, silly science fiction novel that covers a lot of the same ground as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: it contains snarky robots, incompetent computers, weird experiments with interstellar travel, and the near-total extinction of the human race (no aliens, though). The story is pretty choppy and doesn't quite go anywhere, but a lot of the individual characters and situations are pretty clever. It's a quick, fun read, recommended especially for those who miss Douglas Adams's morbid sense of humor.(less)
I recently heard it said on a podcast that Arcadia was Tom Stoppard's best play. I hadn't ever read it before and I was somewhat inclined to scoff, ma...moreI recently heard it said on a podcast that Arcadia was Tom Stoppard's best play. I hadn't ever read it before and I was somewhat inclined to scoff, mainly because I think Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is one of the best plays ever written by anyone. Surely, I thought, the man can't have a better play in him than that. Still, I was prepared for greatness when I started reading, and greatness is what I got.
The first of many signs of pure genius in this play is the way in which Stoppard manipulates his play's single setting. Every scene takes place in the front room of an English country house. It's just that this one room is inhabited, in alternating scenes, by two sets of characters two hundred years apart: half the scenes take place in 1809, and the rest are set in the present day. In the 1809 scenes, a brilliant teenager named Thomasina has lessons and philosophical arguments with her tutor, Septimus Hodge, who's something of a cad as well as a brilliant teacher. In the present day, Hannah, a historian, researches her new book with the assistance of Thomasina's descendants.
Wonderfully, Stoppard structures the play so that the characters from each timeline interact—not directly, of course, but in the sense that each 1809 scene subtly comments on the previous present-day scene, and vice versa. Gradually, we realize that aspects of the lives of Septimus and Thomasina are vital to Victoria's research, and her discoveries give their stories new meaning as we see the two parallel storylines intersect, until everything leads up to a final moment so heartbreaking and hopeful that I almost couldn't believe it when I finished.
This play is a true classic that I'm now very impatient to see live. As for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, well, I need to read it again, because now I'm almost convinced that Stoppard can't have written a better play than Arcadia.(less)